Sisters

by Bari Benjamin

She smiles when she sees me and her skin stretches tightly over her mouth and chin. Her cheekbones and collar bones jut out, sharp and pointy. I sit by her hospital bed, trying to understand what has happened to my seventy-two-year older sister. Just three weeks ago, we spoke on the phone. She asked about my daughter. “You’ve done everything possible for this child.” And I knew she meant it.

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She was twelve and I was five, an annoying younger sister who adored her. One day she taught me to ride my big girl bike. We inched down the cobblestone road when zoom—she let go of the seat and I sped off. My hair flew in my face; my hands clenched the handle bars, my knuckles big and white. My eyes stared wide open.

But the next day she hated me. Often she scared me; she looked like a witch, skinny with long fingernails and straggly, thin hair. We played outside one day, when she hid behind the side of our house. “Boo,” she yelled as she wrapped her gnarled fingers around my neck and squeezed. Hard. She tortured me. “Eat, eat more. Eat for me,” she said, as she pushed food in my face. It didn’t matter what—candy, bread, doughnuts, fruit, whatever was in the fridge.

I became the focus of her rage. Not only did she desperately control what she put in her mouth, she controlled my diet as well. And so it went, I struggled with my sister’s intense emotions, and my mother struggled to keep peace. Her illness divided my parents: My mother protected my sister and my father defended me. “Mommy, please, “I cried, “I don’t want any more to eat. I’m stuffed. I don’t wanna throw up. Help me.”

“Leave her alone,” my father yelled, again and again. 

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Patriarch

by Susan Moldaw

My father was proud to be the patriarch of our family of four—my mother, my sister, and myself. When he was eighty and his cancer was diagnosed, it was a surprise, though I knew he would beat it.

I sometimes drove him to the cancer center for treatments. He always walked in, unlike other patients, who came by wheelchair.

One day, nine months after his diagnosis, my father finally requested a wheelchair when we got to the hospital. That morning, he asked his radiation oncologist how much longer he would live. “Five years?” he asked. Reluctantly, the oncologist said that his cancer was fatal, and would probably kill him within the year. My father’s face fell. I felt my heart drop, seeing his disappointment. Besides—my father was invincible. He couldn’t die. The oncologist didn’t say what the primary cancer doctor gently told me, later, in the brightly lit hallway outside the examining room—that my father had only a few months. Her compassion let loose my fear and sadness. My eyes widened; tears pooled. She gave me a heartfelt hug.

My father and I slowly drove home. Neither of us spoke. He winced with every bump in the road. After I helped him out of the car and we walked what felt like an interminable distance to the front door, he put his arm around my shoulder. I felt his arm’s weight and the welcome burden of his need as I helped him navigate the threshold, cross the hall, and get into bed. That was the first time, and the last, that he ever leaned on me. When I was young—and older too—I’d leaned on him, and wept—at times—into his kind, capacious chest.

Unhitching

by Jason Bruner

It isn’t that faith doesn’t exist for me now; it’s just that most of it was left behind in the places I tried to take it.  

By age ten, my select cadre of heroes was decidedly masculine and eclectic: Ponch and Jon from “CHiPs”, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo from Star Wars, Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves, and Jim Elliot, an American missionary who was killed in a South American rain forest. I was so struck by the story of Jim Elliot that I wrote a fifth grade book report on a devotional account of his short life. I opened my report with a quotation evocative enough to lodge itself firmly in my young psyche: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I admired, even envied, his clarity and conviction.

Jim Elliot, a Wheaton graduate with the distinctive wholesomeness of mid-century Americana, traveled to the Ecuadorian jungle in the mid-1950s, along with four other young white evangelical missionaries. One of them, a prodigious pilot, managed to land a plane on the sandy bank of a meandering river in an attempt to reach the “Auca Indians” (most modern anthropologists refer to them as the Huaorani). Shortly after landing, they were stabbed with spears, making Elliot in particular a household name among American evangelicals. Not technically a saint, Elliot came as close as we had to sainthood and was welcomed into the pantheon of White Missionary Heroes. 

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